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Cuomo Signs Pay Equity Bills

Office of N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo
Gov. Cuomo at the ticker tape parade celebrating the world champion U.S. women's soccer team this week.

Governor Andrew Cuomo used the occasion of the ticker tape parade for the U.S. women’s soccer team in Manhattan to sign two bills that will make it easier for women in New York to receive pay that is equal to men’s salaries.

The measure mandates equal pay for all employees In New York who do “substantially similar work" regardless of their gender. It also extends the equal pay provision for workers who are in a protected class, including race, gender identity or disability.

Governor Andrew Cuomo, speaking just before the parade for the women’s soccer team began, issued a warning to New York’s employers.  

“If you don't pay women what you pay men, then you have no business in the state of New York,” Cuomo said, as the crowd cheered. “Because we are going to sign a bill that says equal pay for equal work.”

Senate sponsor Alessandra Biaggi says the expansion of the equal pay protections helps to address what she says is a “systematic” issue of pay discrimination that is “plaguing” marginalized communities. And she says the new law places less of a burden on the worker to prove that there is a pay discrimination issue and more of the responsibility on the employer to remedy the situation.

“It’s shifting the burden of proof from the employee to the employer,” Biaggi said. “And also making sure that the burden is not on the person who is coming forward.”

The women’s soccer team, which has won the Women’s World Cup several times in the past few years, has raised the issue of pay inequality, after it was revealed that they are paid just 38% of what the U.S. men’s soccer team is paid, even though the men have not won a championship in recent years. The women have sued the U.S. Soccer Federation, saying, that in addition, they bring in more revenue for the sport than the men do.

Cuomo condemned FIFA, the International Federation of Association Football, that governs soccer matches worldwide, saying they did the women a “disservice and an injustice” by paying them less.

“These 23 champions are banging on the glass ceiling that is still in existence in the United States of America,” said Cuomo. “And they are going to keep banging until they break it.”

Cuomo also signed into law a second measure that says an employer can’t ask about a prospective worker’s pay history at prior jobs, because, he says, that could perpetuate the initial injustice of lower pay.  

Senator Biaggi says even with these new protections she understands why some women, or members of another protected class, might still be reluctant to ask their bosses for the same amount that men with their same job positions are paid.

“This is a first step toward closing the wage gap in New York State,” Biaggi said. “Culture sometimes takes a while to catch up, and often times when you pass a law, the law can change the culture.”  

She says it’s still a good idea to consult an attorney to make sure the process is followed correctly to protect the employee, and if that’s unaffordable, to try to seek out a lawyer who would do the work pro bono. 

Karen has covered state government and politics for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 New York and Connecticut stations, since 1990. She is also a regular contributor to the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now. She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment, and interviews newsmakers.